By On July 17th, 2018

Small group of neurons may be the key to treating binge eating

Researchers at Rutgers Brain Health Institute say they have found a potential target for treating binge eating behavior using mice.

The small group of brain cells called ‘orexin’ neurons are known for transmitting information using the chemical orexin and have been previously linked to drug abuse and addiction. Now, the group of researchers believes the neurons can also be used to moderate binge behavior.

“Several key symptoms of eating disorders, such as the sense of losing control, overlap with what we know about the driven nature of drug addiction,” said Dr, Gary Aston-Jones, director of the Brain Health Institute at Rutgers. “Since the orexin system has been implicated in addiction to drugs of abuse, we targeted it to understand the change in food motivation caused by repeated episodes of binge eating.”

To test their theory that orexin neurons could be a potential target for treatment, the team studied a group of female rats fed either a control diet or a sugary, high-fat diet that causes weight gain and binge eating patterns. Then, they observed the rats as they completed a task to earn sweet treats.

The researchers saw that only the group fed the sugary diet linked to binge eating behaviors persisted as the task became more complicated. However, this behavior was reversed when the rats were given a compound that blocks orexin signals in the brain.

“This study was really a proof-of concept for using orexin blockers to reduce binge-like eating in rodents,” said the lead study author Dr. Morgan James, post-doctoral research fellow at the Rutgers Brain Health Institute. “Currently there are several orexin-targeting medications in clinical trials or already FDA-approved, so we have begun testing whether these compounds would produce similar results in our rodent model of binge eating.”

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSID) this week, where the researchers explained that the orexin blockers also reduced the overall amount of food consumed during binge periods.

“Pharmacological treatments are currently limited for patients with eating disorders, so it is really exciting if a novel therapy could expand treatment options for obese individuals with binge eating disorder,” said Dr. Nicholas Bello, associate professor of animal sciences in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University and a senior author of the study.

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